History of Turner Manufacturing Company

By Staff
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Pictured in the 1911 Turner Manufacturing Co. catalog is this "Simplicity" hand-portable outfit available with a 3 or 5 HP engine.
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This upright, also built in Milwaukee, was pictured in the 1902 Turner Manufacturing Co. catalog. It was built in 1-1/2, 2-1/2 and 4-1/2 HP.
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View of the Turner Manufacturing Co. factory.
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The 2 HP "Simplicity, Jr." pumping engines were listed in the 1911 Turner Manufacturing Co. catalog.
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These "Simplicity" stationary hopper cooled engines were built in 3, 5, 7, 9 or 12-16 HP in the year 1911.

In keeping with our custom of featuring an old Wisconsin farm machinery company in our yearbook each year, this year we have researched and written this brief history of the Turner Manufacturing Company of Port Washington, Wisconsin, better known to most of us as the maker of Simplicity engines. Although some areas of the Simplicity engine history are not complete in detail, after much research on the company we have been able to put together the following information

The company was started in Milwaukee during the year of 1872. Details of what they built at first are not available; however, the company name of Western Malleable and Gray Iron Mfg. Co. leads one to believe it may have been just a foundry until they began building gas engines. In 1900 the gas engine line was brought out and by 1902 they built gas engines exclusively. The location of this early factory was 210 Chase Street, Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

In 1909 the company and business moved to 110 Lake Street, Port Washington, Wis. We were not able to find out a special reason for this move. The company was still called Western Malleable & Gray Iron Mfg. Co.

The gas engines were designed and built under the supervision of a Mr. L. M. Turner. Apparently in 1911 Turner was in financial control of the company, as that is when the name was changed to the Turner Manufacturing Company. The company was still located at Port Washington and Simplicity was the brand name used for the engines being built.

The gas engine business flourished for several decades as they shipped them all over the United States and exported some to other countries. The Simplicity engine was well known for its good workmanship, quality and long life. It is interesting to note that prior to 1920 there was a company known as the Richardson Mfg. Co. of Worcester, Massachusetts which sold an engine called the Simplicity which was built by Turner Manufacturing Company. No one seems to know just what connection there was between the two companies.

Being a very successful gas engine company, it was only natural that Turner Manufacturing came out with a farm tractor in 1915. This tractor, called the Turner Simplicity was built in 2 sizes – a 12-20 and a 14-25 HP. By 1916 these tractors had proven themselves in the fields and had been accepted by the farmers. They used a Buda engine in the Turner Simplicity tractors.

In 1918, as World War I ended, the once scarce materials became plentiful and prices dropped 50 percent. This was a shock Turner Manufacturing was not ready for and could not stand financially. Therefore, in 1918 they went into receivership with heavy losses to all stockholders, with the liquidation of the company being completed by 1920.

Back in 1907 William J. Niederkorn began working for Turner Mfg. as a bookkeeper. Being the dynamic man that he was, he had worked himself up to Sales Manager by 1911.

When the company was liquidated in 1920, Bill Niederkorn had a new idea and convinced a Francis Bloodgood to finance it. With an investment of $10,000 by Bloodgood and $1,000 by himself, Mr. Niederkorn bought out the parts of the Turner Mfg. Company along with the Simplicity name. Their new product was a portable cylinder boring and grinding machine. This business prospered and in 1921 the Simplicity Mfg. Company was officially formed.

By 1936 Detroit Manufacturers began rebuilding engines themselves and the demand for the cylinder boring machines fell off.

In 1937 Montgomery Ward asked Simplicity to build a 2-wheel walking garden tractor. These were so popular that Simplicity soon designed a complete line of lawn and garden equipment. They developed a network of dealers all over the country to sell the “new Simplicity” line of equipment.

In 1939 Simplicity developed their first riding garden tractor. In 1958 they brought out the first riding lawn mower with the engine mounted in the rear.

In 1961 Simplicity began building riding tractors for Allis-Chalmers under the Allis-Chalmers name. Then in 1965, Mr. Niederkorn and the rest of the Simplicity’s stockholders sold the company to Allis-Chalmers Corporation for $18,621,179.33. From this point on, no explanation is needed as most everyone knows of the “Simplicity” line of equipment and the Allis-Chalmers Company.

We wish to thank the Simplicity Division of the Allis-Chalmers Company of Port Washington, the Wisconsin State Historical Society, Andy Kruse of Park Ridge, Illinois, Roger Kriebel of Mainland, Pennsylvania and T. H. Krueger of San Antonio, Texas for the use of their materials, books, and catalogs. All helped make this story possible.

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